Dimitar Dimitrov at his wife’s cabin in the rural village of Silistra, four months after his self-immolation.
Wave of Immolation – Bulgarians Are Setting Themselves on Fire in Record Numbers
It’s not every day that you meet someone who has set himself on fire. One reason for this is because it’s pretty much the most awful and insane thing imaginable. Another reason is that people who light themselves ablaze usually die soon afterward. Surprisingly, it’s not always the burns that kill them. Often, flames will enter a self-immolator’s lungs through his mouth, causing him to asphyxiate.
On a recent trip to Bulgaria, I met not one but two people who had survived suicide attempts by fire. “Solving problems with gasoline has become the new trend,” Georgi Kostov told me in the burn-victim unit of St. George hospital in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second-largest city. He was still in shock, so his wife, Donka, did most of the talking.
She explained how the couple were unemployed, in debt, and struggling to feed their children, when, two weeks before my visit, Georgi disappeared into his bedroom at their apartment in the industrial city of Dimitrovgrad. He came out doused in gasoline, convinced that the Mafia was outside his front door to collect on his debts and kill him. Standing in front of his family, he flicked on his lighter and burst into flames. Donka leapt onto him to put out the blaze while his sister threw water on him. They succeeded in saving Georgi, but his wife suffered third-degree burns all over her arms in the process. “He was so depressed,” she said. “He didn’t know how to make anyone notice our poverty. So he did this horrible thing.”
JAPAN’S SUICIDAL SALARYMEN ARE DYING FOR WORK
I recently took a trip to Brussels and met a Japanese woman on vacation in the hostel I was staying in. At 4 AM that morning, when I heard Sayaka—my new Japanese friend—quietly answer her phone and creep from her bed to the downstairs computer room, I was naturally interested in what she was up to. A mole, keeping tabs on guests for the hostel owners? A weirdo, relaying late-night messages about Brussels to her parents because she didn’t feel comfortable using the internet in daylight?
No, turns out it was the only holiday she had taken that year and the early morning computer visit was to finish off some “urgent” work for her boss, which is a pretty sucky way to spend your vacation. Then again, it’s still better than the 16-hour days at the office that awaited her at home.
Sayaka’s situation isn’t uncommon. A large amount of the population in Japan’s biggest cities have a destructive relationship with work, literally, with many grinding themselves away to an early grave. The social phenomenon has its own word, karoshi, and it isn’t death from digit-crippling labor in a sweatshop or accidents on a building site. It’s suits in corporate buildings dying from strokes, heart attacks, or committing suicide after being worked to their limit.
Earlier this year, the suicide of 26-year-old Mina Mori was accepted as karoshi after an investigation found she’d been clocking up 140 hours of overtime every month, working at a popular chain restaurant called Watami. Employees for numerous companies are expected to embrace a work culture that’s destroying their lives—a kind of worse version of the embrace through gritted-teeth I’d imagine David Miliband gave his brother when he got the party leader job—but a firm, necessary embrace nonetheless.
Karoshi was first recognized in the late 60s, when a guy in the shipping department of Japan’s largest newspaper company died after having a stroke, which seemed kind of unusual for a 29-year-old, until people realized that radically overworking a human can have negative effects on the body, which somehow managed to be a surprise. Since then, cases have become relentless battles between family members of the deceased trying to prove their relatives died from being overworked, and the company in question trying their hardest to sweep it under the ever-lumpier rug.
It’s Official: Exercise Doesn’t Make You Less Depressed
A recent scientific study claims to prove conclusively what I have suspected all along: that exercise is not effective in treating depression. Researchers in Bristol and Exeter, UK, studying a test group of 18- to 69-year-olds over a four-month period of time, found that “physical activity… did not improve depression outcome or reduce use of antidepressants” in their subjects. I got a bit less depressed just from hearing this news. It feels nice to be vindicated. The “get more exercise” mantra was always my pet peeve when consulting psychiatric professionals. Exercise? Really? You went to medical school and got a specialized degree so that you could give me the same advice a high school cheerleader would? The next piece of psychiatric advice I’d get was invariably even worse: a recommendation to give up alcohol, and instead begin taking ominously named medications whose possible side-effects include: dizziness, sexual dysfunction and an increase in suicidal thoughts. Why would I sacrifice the time-tested nectar of slothful complacency in exchange for some experimental pharmaceutical that might cause me to kill myself?